Apart from the fact that they play cricket, there’s not a single note of similarity between Zimbabwe cricketers and their Indian counterparts. Their lives, their career arcs, and their talent pool is a tale of two contrasts: one soaked in affluence; the other just taking one step at a time in a road full of uncertainty.
Assembling a squad of eleven worthy players is in itself a challenge for Zimbabwe. And they will be up against a nation that boasts of playing two or three full-strength sides, thanks to a reservoir of the talent pool that keeps inflating with each day. The cricketers there are just like normal citizens, sharing the misery and hardships in equal measure, from queuing up for water to braving the bumpy roads full of potholes to reach the venue. Closer home, the crème de la crème of cricketers live in their own bubble of privilege, oblivious to any other worries that transcend the cricket ground.
Not a long time ago, Ryan Burl, the left-handed batter for Zimbabwe, posted about the ordeal of sticking his shoes after every series. A day later, Burl got sponsorship from Puma. You can’t imagine Indian players, after spending grueling hours on the field, coming back and repairing their shoes so that they don’t have to step out barefoot the next game. They are rich enough to change their shoes every over in a 50-over game.
These contrasts will definitely come through in their performances when they lock horns in Harare. Billing this fixture as David vs Goliath won’t be an exaggeration. No matter how hard they convince you, it’s not going to be a level playing field. There’s no way a board struggling to make ends meet can compete with a board that has just bagged $6 billion from the sale of broadcast rights.
But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be one-way traffic, a slugfest where the Indian cricketers unfurl their tricks without any resistance. Zimbabwe is not going to be a punching bag. They are a team well on the path to redeeming themselves from decades of inefficiency, and they have just bossed the Level 1 by beating Bangladesh in both ODI and T20I series.
Three years ago, the future of Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) looked bleak when its ICC membership was stripped due to the government’s interference. They missed out on the ICC T20I World Cup in the UAE, then lost a couple of series against Afghanistan and Namibia.
The future seemed dark then. But a new dawn has already broken, ever since the legendary Dave Houghton took charge of this faltering unit. Since Houghton’s appointment earlier this year, they have already qualified for the T20I World Cup 2022, and have beaten Bangladesh by a comprehensive margin. Houghton remains pragmatic about the series against India, but has also warned that “they aren’t here just to add up to the numbers and watch India play really good cricket, but we are here to challenge.”
“The biggest thing for me is that we have to go out there with the belief that we can win. That’s a change we have made over the last few months and hopefully, they will continue to believe and come out like that against India. If they do, we will play well and can put up a serious contest against the Indian side,” he told Sportstar.
Admittedly, there’s a daylight difference between Bangladesh and India. But the ubiquity of the word “stunned” in sportswriting tells you a story – of hope, of overcoming odds stacked against you. There will not be a bigger upset in the cricket world this year than India succumbing to them, even though the probability of this seems abysmally low. If their triumph against Bangladesh opened a brave new world, even a single victory in three matches against KL Rahul-side in the side will be a reaffirmation of new possibilities.
But even if that doesn’t happen, the fact remains that the cricket world feels a bit better with the resurgence of Zimbabwe. They have risen from the ashes, the only question is for how long they sustain this level of performance. After India, they will be touring Australia for another three-match series. Irrespective of the result, if they manage to put up a tough fight against India and Australia, more high-profile series awaits them.
Lead Image: Zimbabwe Cricket/Twitter